The first permitted pride parade was held in Los Angeles on June 28, 1970. The parade—which commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising—was organized in part by Rev. Bob Humphries of the United States Mission and Morris Kight of the Gay Liberation Front, and it ran along Hollywood Boulevard, drawing some 50,000 spectators. It was a stunning show of solidarity, though the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Edward Davis, notably took every opportunity to remind the public that homosexuality was still illegal in California.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2023, more than 500 anti-trans bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country; some would make providing gender-affirming care to a young person a felony. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s legislation recently expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” doctrine to high schools. And after Anheuser-Busch sent trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney a can of Bud Light with her face on it, conservative lawmakers called for a boycott.
For our Pride issue, Los Angeles brought together two generations of queer icons for a candid talk about the state of gay: Star Trek’s 86-year-old George Takei—who as a closeted gay marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King before coming out in 2005, marrying his longtime partner, Brad Altman, and becoming an outspoken advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights—and self-proclaimed skinny legend Trixie Mattel, 33, a drag superstar with a manicured finger in every pot. After gaining a mass audience via RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Mattel (government name: Brian Firkus) parlayed her absurdist Barbie visage into a cosmetics line, a Netflix series, and a docuseries on Discovery+ that chronicled the launch of her Palm Springs resort, the Trixie Motel. Here, the two discuss Pride past and present, being closeted in Hollywood, and Takei’s surprising history with “Don’t Say Gay.”
LAMag: Trixie, you’ve worked many Pride events over the years. Would you tell us about an early gig?
Trixie Mattel: The people who have the least fun at Pride are the drag queens. It’s an all-day affair, it’s in the sunlight. The idea that we make drag queens walk in the sunlight—it’s no good. We gotta make the Pride parades at nighttime. But before doing television, I don’t think I was paid to do a single Pride. Behind the scenes, Pride is a lot of people volunteering their time. We talk about “rainbow washing” and whether or not it’s OK to take corporate dollars. It’s a delicate balance. We don’t want to be forced to say that “Colgate loves gay people” so that we have a little bit of money for the DJ. However, we don’t want to have a Pride where it’s two half-eaten hot dogs in an outdoor tent.
George, what do you remember about your first Pride?
George Takei: I was closeted for most of my adult life. I came out at 68 years old. However, we did attend the Pride parade—one in Los Angeles—as a part of the crowd. [Brad and I] also went to a rainy Pride parade in New York City in the same guise—as viewers on the sidewalk. It was a diverse crowd. Senior citizens, young people, teenagers, homophobic people—they were all there. But we were still closeted.
How did that feel, to be closeted while surrounded by so much free expression?
GT: I paid the price because I wanted an acting career. When I was a teenager, Tab Hunter starred in every movie out of Warner Bros.: Damn Yankees, Battle Cry. He was blond, good-looking; he took his shirt off often. He was my hero as a teenager. But when one of the scandal sheets exposed him as a gay guy, he disappeared. That was a clear lesson to me. I marched with Dr. King during a peace movement; I organized rallies as a member of the Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice. I was out on every issue except that one. So there was that guilt. There were all these people out there sacrificing their jobs, their careers; many of them, their families. And here I was, protected with a lie. It was a heavy, heavy sense of guilt.
TM: For me, Pride was the green light. All of these people seem happy and normal, and everyone knows they’re gay. That was more the shock.
There were all these people out there sacrificing their jobs, their careers; many of them, their families. And here I was, protected with a lie. It was a heavy, heavy sense of guilt.
What makes Los Angeles a great gay city?
TM: L.A. is super gay. Obviously, if we’re talking numbers, this is a city for entertainment. It’s a city of people who are creators. And a lot of queer people are creators. There’s probably a lot of superficial reasons—which is, the weather’s good. I think gay people are like, “I’ve been through enough. Just give me sunshine, please.” Also, the gay bars. Maybe it has to do with the extreme vanity of the city? I don’t know. I think it’s because The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are here. The gays just want to be close to the Beverly Hills Housewives.
George, in honor of Pride, would you tell Trixie the origin of your catchphrase, “Oh my”?
GT: The first time I did The Howard Stern Show, I was doing a play in New York. When you’re doing a play, you get this list of media to do to promote the show. I had never heard of Howard. I went to the studio on Madison Avenue, and they asked me to wait. I sat down, grabbed a magazine, and they had this radio on. It was the most disgusting, crude conversation. I said to the other guy waiting with me, “Why can’t they get some pleasant music on in the waiting room?” And he said, “That’s the show we’re waiting to go on.” On cue, the receptionist came to get me. I walked into this studio, and here is this skinny, tall guy—horn-rimmed glasses, hair all over. I said, “Good morning.” He said, “Oh, you have a deep voice. Anyone with a voice that deep has to have a dong bigger than Tokyo.” I said, “I beg your pardon. Are we on the air?” He said, “Yep.” And I said, “Oh my . . .”
TM: (laughing) Oh, my God!
GT: He had it on tape. And so—whether I’m there or not—whenever someone says something outrageous, he presses a button, and my voice says, “Oh my.”
Trixie would have found a way to monetize that.
TM: I was just going to say we gotta make sure that every time they hit that button, George gets at least a tenth of a cent or something. Like a stream on Spotify.
George, you came out in response to then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vetoing a same-sex marriage bill. Did you ever talk to him about it?
GT: Never. And I’ve never wanted to. Because when he ran for governor, he ran by saying, “I’ve worked with gays and lesbians—I’m from Hollywood. I have friends who are gay.” And some of our gay friends did actually vote for him. But what we don’t need in the political arena are hypocrites who use hypocrisy to get bills passed. It turns out, when he was vetoing the marriage equality bill, he was carrying on with his housekeeper right under his wife’s nose. That’s the kind of lack of any principle on this man’s part. And he’s been made into a hero because he has big pectorals. I like big pectorals, too. But it’s what’s behind that counts. And he is a hypocrite.
In the past year, more than 500 anti-trans bills were introduced across the U.S. But this isn’t new. “Don’t Say Gay” dates back to at least 2011. George, you spoke out against it at the time.
GT: It was a Tennessee senator named Stacey Campfield who tried to ban use of the word gay by schoolteachers. This was a high school teacher he was trying to ban—teachers who have to guide and console and inform young teenagers. I said, “Well, if using the word gay is going to be forbidden in class, you can just substitute my surname, which rhymes with gay. You can march in the Takei Pride Parade.”
TM: (laughing) Shut up.
George, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, your family was sent to an internment camp. At the time, California had an attorney general with political aspirations who used this irrational fear to score with voters. Do you see parallels to the way Ron DeSantis is using “Don’t Say Gay”?
GT: It’s exactly parallel. Earl Warren was the attorney general of California—the state’s top lawyer. He had his eyes on the governor’s seat, and he needed an issue. And the hysteria went all the way to the White House: [Franklin] Roosevelt signed an executive order. All Japanese Americans on the West Coast—approximately 125,000 of us—had to be summarily rounded up with no charges, no trial, no due process, to be imprisoned in prison camps in some of the most god-awful places in the country.
Earl Warren became governor and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
GT: Let me get to the resolution. By the ’70s, we had four Japanese Americans in the House and two in the Senate. We got Congress to form a congressional commission. In 1988, that conservative Republican, Ronald Reagan—of all people—apologized to the Japanese Americans for that unjust incarceration and signed the Civil Liberties Act, which authorized a $20,000 token redress. Can you imagine, a small minority demanding an apology and monetary reimbursement for that pain and suffering for four years’ imprisonment? It can happen. With this madness going on with Ron DeSantis and all the Republicans who are passing all of these anti-trans bills—that will be overcome.
I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the career I have without people like Heklina building the foundation, brick by brick. She was very punk rock.
TM: But it’s interesting, too, because the conservatives—these are people who know so little about culture, they can’t even define drag. I’ve been doing drag 15 years, and I can’t give you a definition of drag. And because drag’s not definable, it makes the way you enforce the laws very hazy. I get to use my voice to talk about it, but the big, fancy, rich, famous drag queens are not the people who are going to be affected by this. It’s the queer and trans people who live on your block who are just trying to exist. Not to mention, as a white, rich person, I’m not going to get shot the first time I get arrested. Trans people of color? They might not get to the arrest. That’s what spooks me about all of this.
Did you follow the Bud Light controversy? Did you see Kid Rock shooting up cans of Bud Light with an automatic rifle over its partnership with Dylan Mulvaney?
TM: That was crazy. It’s interesting that conservatives are saying, “Great, now my favorite beer has turned political.” Open your eyes: Prides have been sponsored by every beer and liquor company for decades. Every Pride I’ve played at, I’m at the Miller Stage, the Budweiser Stage. This is not new. You’re just mad now.
GT: Trixie, you are the personification of the advances. You’re a positive note. When I was a young actor trying to build a career, I had to be completely closeted. Today, we have you monetizing your gayness into an industry. We are making progress.
On that note, I went to DragCon—the drag convention—a few years ago, and I was so moved by the number of young people who were there with their parents.
TM: Yeah, DragCon really ends up being a mother-daughter event. If you have parents, it’s one thing to say, “Hey, will you come at 2 a.m. to a gay bar to watch this drag show on a Monday?” It’s another to be like, “Will you go to this well-lit environment where we can get a corn dog and walk around?” I started doing drag for adults in the middle of the night. It’s crazy to be at a place now where most of the drag I do is for the masses—and we shoot it during the day. But drag is not this mass indoctrination that it’s made out to be. In fact, I’ll be honest, most drag queens don’t want more drag queens. There are only so many jobs. We don’t want your kid to put on a wig.
Is there a drag legend we lost this year that you want people to remember this Pride?
TM: Katya? No, I’m just kidding. We lost Heklina this year. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the career I have without people like Heklina building the foundation, brick by brick, before I was even of age to put a wig on. She was very punk rock. And she couldn’t care less what conservative people thought about what she did. As a businessperson, I get so worried about my microcosm of I-want-my-shows-to-do-well and whatever. Heklina didn’t care. She didn’t start in drag so everyone would like her. I think that’s important.
Trixie, you own a gay bar in Milwaukee called This Is It! It has a unique history.
TM: It’s one of the oldest gay bars in the United States. I think we’ve been open longer than Stonewall. It wasn’t intended to be a gay bar, but it had a back entrance and gay people could sneak in the back—like they do. I’m there for Pride. And we go big. We just added the most premium dressing rooms. If a drag queen’s going to own the bar, we’ve got to have a good dressing room. Because I’ve gotten ready in some shitholes. George, the next time you’re in Milwaukee, you’ve gotta come. The happy hour is beyond.
George just turned 86, did a musical onstage in London, and has speaking engagements across the States. Trixie, you’re 33. Will you still be touring when you’re 86?
GT: At 91, Angela Lansbury did the Mary Poppins [sequel]. Throughout her eighties, she was onstage on Broadway. She’s my theater idol.
TM: Drag is a 21-year-old’s sport. I already am a senior citizen in drag, which is crazy. RuPaul is 62, and she looks better than ever. I don’t know. I don’t want to be in drag at 62. But I used to say that about being in drag at 30, and here we are.